Kate Mulgrew’s memoir How to Forget is available today in paperback. To celebrate the book’s paperback release we are pleased to publish an excerpt. To read more, click here or visit your local book seller to purchase.
A Saturday morning in Brentwood, the breakfast room flooded with Southern California light. The year was 2000, we were nearing the end of the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, and I had filmed very late the night before. Irritably, I scraped strands of tangled hair from my eyes and lowered my head, pressing the receiver to my ear.
“Mother, is that you?”
A long pause, then the voice returned, each word strained as if through a fine sieve.
“I think something’s wrong,” she said. Again, she lapsed into silence.
“Mother, listen to me,” I commanded, intuitively using a voice both firm and gentle. “You need to tell me what has happened. Take your time. I’m here.”
There was a moment on the other end of the line that opened like a void, dropping my mother into a confusion so palpable that I wondered if I had lost her.
“I think I may have had a series of small strokes,” the voice at last responded, small and hesitant.
“What do you mean? Tell me exactly what happened, Mother, as clearly as you can.”
“I fell out of bed and my glasses broke.”
“Why do you think you had a series of small strokes?”
“It felt like electricity zapped my brain six or seven times, and then I fell out of bed.”
“What do you mean, electricity zapped your brain?”
“I was reading and then currents—like bolts of lightning, or strobes—flashed in my brain. Very powerful, very quick. So strong it knocked my glasses off, and now they’re broken.”
Another long pause, during which I processed this information and my mother attempted to compose herself. But she was distant, her voice tremulous, and even as we spoke, I felt her slipping away from me.
“How are you feeling now?” I asked. “Mother?”
“I think something came out of the wallpaper.”
My pulse quickened.
I lowered my voice, steadied it.
“What came out of the wallpaper, Mother? Can you tell me?”
Then a groan, stifled as it rose in her throat.
“What was it, Mother? What came out of the wallpaper?”
“Spiders,” she whispered. “Black spiders.”
My turn to be silent. She meant every word, I knew this. The phone call must have demanded extraordinary effort. She was terrified, and worse, she was disoriented.
“Where are you now, Mother?” I asked, scribbling the words spiders and hallucination on a scratch pad.
“Upstairs,” she replied, and I envisioned her in her blue cotton pajamas, standing next to the small oak table in the upstairs hallway where the phone sat, clutching her damaged glasses in one hand, staring back through the open door of her bedroom.
“Mother, have you told Dad?”
A whimper, one of anxiety.
“Mother? Are you there?”
I sensed that she was giving up, failing, that the conversation would soon overwhelm her, so I pressed on.
“Mother, I think you should tell Dad.”
Again, that sound caught in her throat, unable to escape. A long pause.
“Oh, no, dear. No,” she said at last, and then I knew that it was only a matter of seconds before I lost her.
“I’ll come, darling, so don’t worry, all right? I’ll come as soon as I can.”
There was a dropping off, a fumbling, and then the line went dead.
From How to Forget by Kate Mulgrew. Copyright © 2019 by Kate Mulgrew. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.